Today we explore the musical home of the Jackson family in Gary, Indiana.
Gary, Indiana may have a population of over 70,000, but it is still a ghost town. Over one-third of all the buildings are abandoned. Crime is up, and employment is down. But it wasn’t always like this. From the 1930’s to the 1960’s Gary was booming. It is here in January 1950 that Joseph Jackson and his wife Katherine bought a small house at 2300 Jackson Street. (called merely 23rd Street at the time)
At the time they purchased their home, Catherine was already pregnant with their first child, Rebbie. Nine more children would follow while they were living here. (Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, LaToya, Marlon, Brandon, Michael, Randy, and Janet all between 1950-1966) Brandon was a twin brother of Marlon but was stillborn.
Having 11 people in a two-bedroom home led to a lot of stress and financial hardship. Joseph worked at two different steel mills, and Katherine worked parttime at Sears as well as caring for the children. Joseph was determined to find a way out. He had a band called The Falcons that toured local clubs, but it disbanded after the lead singer decided to go it alone. Joseph noticed that his son Tito had taken to playing guitar and formed a band called the Jackson brothers featuring Tito, Jermaine, and Jackie. He later added brothers Marlon and Michael and named the group The Jackson Five.
Joseph was very relentless and at times according to several family members physically abusive. He would drill the brothers on their playing and singing. He was especially hard on Michael who had emerged as the primary talent of the group. They would go to school by day and rehearse or perform in local talent shows or taverns. Despite all this, according to his teachers, Michael was an above average student who especially excelled in music and creative writing classes.
In 1967 the brothers had earned a spot on Amateur Night at Harlem’s Apollo Theater and won easily. This led to a record deal at a local label called Steeltown Records. Their first single was called “Big Boy” and was a hit in Gary and the neighboring Chicago area. (The song is available on Youtube. It’s obvious this is a small label because of the production values, but the talent is obvious) The success of the record got the attention of Diana Ross who saw them perform and set up an audition for the boys at Motown, Within months the family vacated the house and moved to California. While everyone knows just how phenomenal careers the Jackson 5, Michael and Janet have had, it’s worth noting Jermaine, Rebbie and LaToya have also had gold records as solo artists as well.
The yard has a plaque (that keeps getting stolen) honoring Michael, there are some plaques also in the sidewalk inside the yard.
The house is very easy to get find. Located just off of Interstate 80 and well marked. This is still a residential area and the neighboring houses are mostly occupied, so please be respectful. Sadly, Gary has an elevated crime rate, but if you just stop and take a few pictures and go about your day, you should be fine. DO NOT VISIT AT NIGHT. (But that is true about a lot of places in the USA, so just use caution) I feel like it’s worth visiting because can really appreciate just how far they came with hard work and a whole lot of talent.